Ok cool kids—or, bambini—this is our last stop on our tour of Italy’s wine regions—Southern Italy. Don’t forget to check out what we learned in Northern and Central Italy as well.
[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
First thing you have to know is that Southern Italy is hot. If you’ve been there during the summer months, you know what I’m talking about. Luckily, despite many preconceived notions, the wines of the Southern Italian world are not all big, bold reds. Let’s take a look…
Overall, the climate of Southern Italy, is hot and dry in the inland areas, becoming more humid toward the coast. As in, Central Italy, many vineyards are planted along the slopes of the Apennine, in which case the vineyards are cooled by altitude. Those planted in the coastal area of the Puglian Peninsula will receive some moderating sea breezes.
Traditionally, vines were bush-trained low to the ground as a way to utilize the canopy to protect grapes from sunburn. Many old vines still use this viticultural method, however newer vineyard plantings use cordon training and trellising in order to incorporate mechanization in the vineyard.
So, let’s take a look at the individual, key regions…
FUN FACT: Campania is home to more DOCGs than any other region in Southern Italy.
Campania is home to a very varied landscape, complete with mountains, valleys, and coastal plains. So, as you’d suspect, there’s a wide variety of grapes that are grown throughout the area. When it comes to white wines, Fiano and Greco are the grapes to know. The regions to know are Fiano di Avellino DOCG and Greco di Tufo DOCG. If you’ve not had these grapes, Fiano is a medium bodied wine, with medium acidity and stone fruit aromas. It’s one of those wines that can be drunk young, but can also age for a bit. Greco on the other hand is leaner, usual made with protective winemaking. However, it’s noted that some winemakers will use lees aging and even a touch of old oak to add some body and mouthfeel. These wines can age in bottle for some time.
Red wine grape to know: Aglianico. A personal favorite of mine, but again, I’ve only had the California expression. It’s noted that this is the most prestigious black grape of the south. It’s a deeply colored, high acid, high tannin wine, with flavors of black fruit. Region to know: Taurasi DOCG.
Further inland, Basilicata is an extremely mountainous wine region. VOLCANO FACT: Vineyards can sit at about 900 meters (just shy of 3,000 feet) of elevation on plateaus that surround an extinct volcano, Monte Vulture, so-named because (if you’ve been drinking, and squint real hard) it’s in the shape of a vulture. Name of the grape game: Aglianico and the prime region is easy to remember: Aglianico del Vulture DOC.
Puglia is in the heel of the Italian boot. And like a trendy boot, the region is hot, thus grape growing is dominated by red wine grape varieties. The main varieties are Negroamaro and Primitivo, the latter of which many will know by the name Zinfandel. And like our California Zinfandel, when either of these two grapes are produced in high, uncontrolled yields in this very warm climate and in the vast plains that make up the Puglian Peninsula, the resulting wines will be fairly simple, fruity, intended for early drinking, not aging. These wines will be labeled Puglia IGT.
But for winemakers making a finer product, they’ll be wanting to control the yields in the vineyard. The resulting wines will be of higher quality, fuller body, with medium tannins, high acidity, and high alcohol, with flavors of baked red and black fruits (or red fruits in the case of Primitivo). It’s noted that the best Negroamaro comes from the Salice Salentino DOC.
One of my (if not my absolute) favorite stops when I toured Italy a few years back.
Like Puglia, Sicily can also grow high quantities of grapes, labeled as either IGT Terre di Sicilia or Terre Siciliane. When yields are controlled, wines will be labeled as Sicilia DOC. The main red wine grape is Nero d’Avola, produced in either an early-drinking, simple style or a more structured, complex style. When it comes to white varieties, the local white grapes are sold both as varietals or blends and are usually unoaked, quaffable wines. International varieties, such as Chardonnay and particularly Syrah are also seeing success on the island.
The best wines (says the book and yours truly) come from Etna DOC—also a dormant volcano. Red wines here are comprised of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio, which are blended together.
Thus concludes our tour of Italy. How’d I do? How did you do? Anything to add? Favorite wines or wine regions? Let’s talk about it… And I’ll see you, well, wherever in the world my studies take me next. Ciao!
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